Language barriers adversely impact health-care quality

November 13, 2007

For the millions of Americans whose native tongue isn’t English, language remains a critical road block to quality healthcare, according to a University of California, Irvine study.

Researchers in the Center for Health Policy Research in the UC Irvine School of Medicine have found that language barriers between patients and healthcare providers result in longer hospital stays, more medical errors and lower patient satisfaction.

In a nationwide study of more than 2,700 patients who have limited English-language proficiency, Dr. Quyen Ngo-Metzger and colleagues found that these language barriers were associated with less health education, poorer doctor-patient interactions and lower patient satisfaction.

Their study appears in a special “Language Barriers in Health Care” issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine published this month.

Specifically, the researchers found that patients who did not speak the same language as their doctors were less likely to receive lifestyle counseling in diet, exercise and smoking cessation. In turn, having access to a clinic interpreter allowed health education to take place and partially overcome the language barrier.

However, in patients’ ratings of their doctors and the quality of interpersonal care, having an interpreter did not serve as a substitute for shared language. Patients who were able to speak directly with their doctors were the most satisfied with their care.

“While interpreters are a necessary solution to the problem of language barriers in healthcare, our findings suggest they are likely to be an imperfect one,” said Ngo-Metzger, an assistant professor of medicine at UC Irvine. “It remains important that our healthcare system recruit and train more bilingual providers to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.”

According to the 2000 census, approximately 47 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home.

Source: University of California - Irvine

Explore further: Barriers to diabetes care include restaurants and high-risk lifestyles, says international review

Related Stories

Researchers study second language loss in elderly

March 14, 2007

Imagine coming to Canada as a young adult from a country where English is not spoken. Over the years, you work hard to learn English and, using it every day of your life, end up speaking it well. As you become elderly, however, ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.